Should Texas guv do more?
When it comes to reacting to emergencies unaccompanied by the drama of very high winds and lots of rain, a considerable number of Texans might wish someone else were at the state's helm.
U. S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who has established an exploratory committee for a governor's race, seems to be counting on support from those critics, as she ramps up to take on Perry.
Hutchison has always been a relatively moderate Republican. Perry, who was elected to the Texas House of Representatives as a Democrat, seemed relatively moderate while he was there - even voting for a large tax increase during tough times.
But, since he switched to the Republican Party in 1989 to run for Agriculture Commissioner, he has steadily moved rightward.
That included his insistence, during a budget shortfall in 2003, on balancing the budget by cutting state programs rather than increasing revenues. One Republican state representative at the time said that went beyond cutting fat to cutting muscle and bone.
That included allocating less state money for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) than was necessary to bring down the maximum federal matching funds and, as a result, hundreds of thousands of kids were left to the mercies of whatever health care they could find.
The decision to lowball on state money meant that Texas left $600 million in federal matching funds on the table, Hutchison said in 2004, when she was considering a 2006 race for governor.
"It's very tragic that Texas had the money, it wouldn't call a special session to go ahead and put the program in place to get it going in time to get enough children signed up," Hutchison said then. "We know that Texas needs that money."
Hutchison decided to run for re-election rather than governor in 2006, and easily won. But now that she's shifted her sights once again to a race for governor, she's reiterating her call for Texas government to help its citizens more, not less.
In her announcement establishing an exploratory committee for a race for governor, Hutchison said:
"Texans deserve a governor who, in the context of sound budgetary policies and low taxes, works for quality schools and universities, access to health care for our families, communities safe from crime and drugs, protection of private property rights, sensible transportation and a government that listens and responds to them.
"There's too much bitterness, too much anger, too little trust, too little consensus and too much infighting. And the tone comes from the top. Texans are looking for leadership and results," Hutchison said.
Perry, who called for the federal government to take action following the Wall Street collapse, then criticized Hutchison for voting for the $700 billion bailout, isn't passing up any chance to blast her. He apparently presumes that if he appeals to conservative Republicans he'll outscore Hutchison in the 2010 primary, breeze to re-election in November - and perhaps get more notice nationally.
Perry e-mailed a letter touting his conservative credentials just before the embargo on fundraising began Dec. 14 (raising campaign bucks is prohibited before, during and after the Legislature's regular session every two years). Without mentioning Hutchison by name, Perry seemed to be taking fairly direct aim at her call for providing more state help for education and health care.
Perry said that he is staying true to the lessgovernment approach of the late Ronald Reagan, despite the election victories of Democrats.
"And we cannot allow the true party of big government and spending deficits — the Democrat Party — to cling to the mantle of fiscal responsibility simply because Washington Republicans blew it with 12 years of exploding earmarks and spending sprees," he wrote.
Hutchison has been in the Senate for 15 years.
"We're not just battling the Democrats' liberal vision for America," Perry said in the e-mail, " but some within our midst who want to chart a course that is Democrat Lite — Republican in name, Democrat in priorities."
The Legislature's 140-day session starts Jan. 13. Presuming the members of the House can figure out who will be speaker, the House and Senate will sort out which state spending needs will get how much funding.
If recent history is a guide, the Legislature will leave town after 140 days amid criticism from advocates for top-notch schools and broader children's health care that the legislators - and governor -- failed to provide enough money for.
Among those critics will probably be Kay Bailey Hutchison.